Releasing three singles over three seasons, leader Mateusz Chorazewicz’s group Hippocampus Ex is starting with the first track, “Sunrise.” Solid beats and low, easy harmonies (there is something stately about this song) lay the floor for the poetry of C. K. Norwid artfully expressed by vocal artist Nick Sinckler. It’s a thought piece, an experiential song rather than one to move or dance to, lending an atmosphere of peaceful, airy contemplation.
Chorazewicz’s other group, Bipolar Order, based in Warsaw, Poland, was formed in 2018 and includes Jakub Żołubak on guitar. Their 2021 single, “Lockdown,” uses a heavily harmonized modal piece that splits open into new melodic sections (including Jacek Namysłowski on trombone and Cyprian Baszyński on trumpet) and is punctuated by a fiery solo on tenor. And their five-movement compilation paints a beautiful background in each one.
When and why did you start saxophone?
I started playing the saxophone when I was 14 or 15. I can’t exactly remember how old I was. Before that I played the clarinet for a few years. However, my music education started when I was 7. My father signed me up for piano lessons in our local House of Culture in Gdansk, Poland.
What part of your music education was most helpful?
I had few important moments. My first clarinet and saxophone teacher (Marek Piontek), in addition to the classical stuff, showed me some jazz standards and introduced me to this kind of musical flow. Also, he convinced me to go to the proper jazz teacher Maciej Sikala (one of the best Polish tenor saxophonists ever) and apply to Academy of Music in Gdansk.
Also, my master’s degree period was very important and helpful. I met Maciek Obara then (a well-known ECM artist), who showed me that not only hardbop is good music (whatever that means). From that point I’ve started to explore more avant garde jazz and compose music which is influenced by many different genres. Hippocampus Ex is the embodiment of this approach.
What was the jazz scene like when you first started, and where are you based? What is the jazz scene like now, post-pandemic?
Well, I think that for the last 10 years, Polish jazz scene has changed a lot. I see many young faces getting better and better. Most importantly, I see many musicians and bands with very clear and unique music ideas. If this continues, in the next 10 or 20 years Polish jazz scene should be much stronger. But to be honest, I think we already have significant impact on European jazz scene with what we have now.
The above was valid until 2020. After the pandemic, there is a huge question about the future. What I see is that many jazz musicians are giving up music and getting normal day jobs. I hope that we will eventually leave COVID behind and the economic situation will stabilize so that we can continue our growth.
What was the inspiration behind the song “Sunrise” and what were the production highlights of this single?
Many of us live in darkness (that’s the title of the poem by C.K. Norwid which is vocal layer of “Sunrise” single). The only way to know the truth is to become aware of it and try to bring light into our minds.
How did you meet the international artists that you are currently working with on this music, and what do they each bring to the project?
We met online. In fact, the whole single was produced online, which was a little bit tough. I did not have 100% control over every aspect. For example, Francesca Prattico recorded the drums on a dozen different microphones, and I had no control over the equipment, the studio, etc. But I think it was a good decision to make it that way. Above all, every musician participating in Hippocampus Ex is really good at their faculty. They know exactly what they are doing and this makes “Sunrise” more of a joint work rather than “’my vision and mine alone.” I had a clear concept of this composition from the beginning, but my musicians could bring their own spirit to this music.
And because we live in very different places, the music of Hippocampus Ex is more universal, as our inspirations and influences are strongly varied.
One certain exception to this is Nick Sinckler’s vocals. I have known of his existence since 2007 or 2008, when he appeared on a TV show in Poland. I liked his voice from the very beginning. I decided that for the vocal layer I needed a bit more control, so I was looking for someone who knew and understood Polish culture. Nick was the perfect choice for this task. He has lived in Poland for a long time and can understand the nuances of the poetry of C. K. Norwid.
As the first of three, will the other singles be related in theme or vibe?
Probably yes. I have a lot to say in that vibe and I definitely haven’t explored it enough yet.
What do you like best about playing sax?
The sound of the tenor saxophone. I started with an alto, but to be honest, I don’t really like the sound of it and eventually gave up on it. I’m always looking for the dark, warm sound of my saxophone. I definitely haven’t achieved that goal yet, but I’m trying.
I also play the baritone saxophone, which is my second passion. I love that strong, low sound. In fact, I’m starting to think than I have more to discover with baritone saxophone.
What elements are most important to you when you first begin to compose a song: melody, harmony, space for solos, etc.?
There is no rule. Sometimes the harmony comes first, other times the melody or bass line. Also, I try to compose on various instruments. For example, the bass line can be composed on the baritone saxophone, the harmony on the piano and the melody on the tenor. Or the bass line on tenor, harmony on clarinet and melody on baritone saxophone. This gives me the ability to compose with different flow each time. I think this makes each of my compositions different.
Aaron Parks once said that melody is for the heart, harmony is for the brain and rhythm is for the body. I agree with him, and I try to include this thought in my compositions.
What are the challenges of playing today, and where do you find most of your opportunities for gigs?
Challenges are in the market itself. In Poland, we have more supply than demand for jazz music. Before the coronavirus, I had a few quite busy years, but now it’s tough to get well-paid jobs. Especially for musicians with lesser-known names. After COVID, the market may get a little refreshed, but at this stage it is unknown.
I’m focusing on recording sessions right now. It brings me much more fun than struggling with a sick market. During a recording session, I have a sense of creating something. For me, this is time well spent without fighting with gig-givers. I play some concerts, but I definitely don’t focus on that.
Talk about your previous albums and what you loved about making them.
Apart from Hippocampus Ex, I’m also co-founder of Bipolar Order group. Our debut album “Duality” was released in 2019. It was really an educational experience. I think we did a pretty good job. Especially since the other co-founder (Jakub Zolubak) is significantly different from me in many aspects (also musically). But there was always a good and constructive vibe between us, so we had to find a way to reconcile our different styles into one coherent vision. I think we’ve achieved this to some extent.
After that we recorded the single “Lockdown” (during the first COVID lockdown) and EP called “Live Session” in 2021. After that, our cooperation faded a little bit, but I hope we will resume it in the near future.
It’s a strange world we live in right now. First was COVID. Now we have war in Ukraine and God only knows what Russia or China are capable of. We don’t have much impact on most big world things. The only thing we have an impact on is our mind. We are not doomed to passive observation of reality. There is always the option to adapt somehow and bring light into our lives. Look for solutions, not excuses.
For more information, visit https://chorazewicz.art/en/. To hear “Sunrise,” visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbB3wobfBBY.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.
© 2023 Debbie Burke
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